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Politics

Obama, Clinton and Big-Name Entertainers Help Biden Raise a Record $26 Million for His Reelection

NEW YORK (AP) — Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and some big names from the entertainment world teamed up Thursday night to deliver a rousing New York embrace of President Joe Biden that hauled in a record-setting $26 million-plus for his reelection campaign.

The mood at Radio City Music Hall was electric as Obama praised Biden’s willingness to look for common ground and said, “That’s the kind of president I want.” Clinton said simply of the choices facing voters in 2024: “Stay with what works.”

Biden himself went straight at Donald Trump, saying his expected GOP rival’s ideas were “a little old and out of shape.”

Moderator Stephen Colbert, in an armchair conversation with the trio, called them “champion talkers” and joked that the three presidents had come to town “and not one of them is here to appear in court,” a dig at Trump’s many legal troubles.

The eye-popping fundraising haul was a major show of Democratic support for Biden at a time of persistently low poll numbers. The president will test the power of his campaign cash as he faces off with Trump, who proved with his 2016 win over Democrat Hillary Clinton that he didn’t need to raise the most money to seize the presidency.

President Joe Biden, left center, and former presidents Barack Obama, right center, and Bill Clinton participate in a fundraising event with Stephen Colbert, left, at Radio City Music Hall, Thursday, March 28, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

During the nearly hourlong conversation, Obama and Clinton explained just how hard Biden’s job is. They spoke of loneliness and frustration over policies that work but aren’t immediately felt by the public. They gave an insider’s view of the office as they sought to explain why Biden was best for the job.

“It is a lonely seat,” said Obama, who had hitched a ride to New York on Air Force One with Biden.

The talk was by turns humorous and serious, ending with all three donning sunglasses in the mostly dark music hall, a nod to the trademark Ray-Ban sunglasses that Biden often wears.

The sold-out Radio City Music Hall event was a gilded exclamation mark on a recent burst of campaign travel by Biden, who has visited several political battlegrounds in the three weeks since his State of the Union address served as a rallying cry for his reelection bid. Thursday’s event also brought together more than three decades of Democratic leadership.

The music hall’s marquee advertised the big-dollar night as “An Evening with Joe Biden Barack Obama Bill Clinton.” NYPD officers lined surrounding streets as part of a heavy security presence.

President Joe Biden, right, and former presidents Barack Obama, left, and Bill Clinton participate in a fundraising event with Stephen Colbert at Radio City Music Hall, Thursday, March 28, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Protesters angry at Biden’s handling of the war in Gaza and strong support of Israel briefly disrupted the show, drawing a pledge from Biden to keep working to stop civilian deaths, particularly of children. But he added, “Israel’s existence is at stake.” Hundreds more protested outside in the drizzling rain, many demanding a cease-fire and waving Palestinian flags.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., was up first to warm up the crowd of about 5,000 supporters. Entertainers, too, lined up to make the case for Biden. Lizzo belted out her hit “About Damn Time” and emcee Mindy Kaling joked that it was nice to be in a room with “so many rich people,” adding that she loved that they were supporting a president who openly promises to “raise your taxes.”

Obama laid out the choice for the audience, saying that “at the end of the day, you do have to make a choice about who sees you and cares about you. I’m pretty confident the other guy doesn’t.”

At one point, Colbert said he suspected some Americans had forgotten some of the more concerning aspects of Trump’s presidency, including Jan. 6, 2021, when a mob of Trump supporters violently stormed the U.S. Capitol in a failed effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election results.

Biden said concerns over the riot reverberated outside the U.S., with foreign leaders questioning the stability of the U.S. democracy. That democracy is still fragile, he said.

The fundraiser had different tiers of access depending on a donor’s generosity. Other participating celebrities included Queen Latifah, Ben Platt, Cynthia Erivo and Lea Michele. Tickets sold for as low as $225.

More money got donors more intimate time with the presidents. A photo with all three was $100,000. A donation of $250,000 earned donors access to one reception, and $500,000 got them into an even more exclusive gathering. First lady Jill Biden and DJ D-Nice hosted an afterparty at the music hall with 500 guests, the campaign said.

Obama and Clinton were helping Biden expand his already significant cash advantage over Trump. Biden had $155 million in cash on hand through the end of February, compared with $37 million for Trump and his Save America political action committee.

The more than $26 million tally for the New York City event includes money from supporters who handed over cash in the weeks before the fundraiser for a chance to attend. It raised $6 million more than Trump raised during February.

“This historic raise is a show of strong enthusiasm for President Biden and Vice President Harris and a testament to the unprecedented fundraising machine we’ve built,” said campaign co-chair Jeffrey Katzenberg. “Unlike our opponent, every dollar we’re raising is going to reach the voters who will decide this election — communicating the president’s historic record, his vision for the future and laying plain the stakes of this election.”

Trump’s campaign is expecting to bring in $33 million at a big fundraiser next week in Palm Beach, Florida, according to a person familiar with the details who spoke on condition of anonymity to confirm a number first reported by the Financial Times.

Trump has kept a low profile in recent weeks, partially because of courtroom appearances for various legal cases, the bills for which he’s paying with funds from donors. His next political rallies are scheduled for Tuesday in Michigan and Wisconsin. Some Republican leaders have become concerned that his campaign doesn’t have the infrastructure ready for a general election battle with Biden.

Trump was in the New York area on Thursday, attending the Long Island wake of a New York City police officer who was shot and killed during a traffic stop in Queens.

Republican Party Chairman Michael Whatley tried to framed the two candidates’ whereabouts on Thursday as a demonstration of a “contrast in leadership.”

“On the same day President Trump attended the wake of slain New York Police Department officer Jonathan Diller, Joe Biden wines and dines with celebrities at a fundraiser with Barack Obama and Bill Clinton,” he said in a statement.

The facts, said White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, show that violent crime rose during Trump’s tenure while Biden’s administration has “done the polar opposite, taking decisive action from the very beginning to fund the police and achieving a historic reduction in crime.”

The setting was an unusual opportunity for the two past presidents to talk frankly about how they did the job, helping explain Biden and his presidency.

As the three men closed out the night by donning Biden’s trademark sunglasses, the president quipped, “Dark Brandon is real,” a nod to a meme featuring Biden with lasers for eyes.

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By COLLEEN LONG and CHRIS MEGERIAN Associated Press

Megerian reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Jill Colvin in New York and Darlene Superville in Washington contributed to this report.

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